Online poker is such that there are many tournament formats from which the modern poker fan can choose these days. Different structures, blind levels, prize pool distributions and a slew of other factors make the world of online MTTs both thrilling and perplexing at times.

Progressive knockout tournaments (or PKOs) have gained increasing popularity among the global online poker community with each new year, with the Bounty element understandably proving to be a massive hit. The idea that other players at the table have bounties that can increase as the field thins down, and that we can earn juicy cash rewards for simply eliminating players from the tournament is an attractive one for online poker fans, to whom PKOs present entertainment and excitement alongside the chance to win money without even having to make the main prizes. Such a proposition is a poker player’s dream. It’s a key selling point of PKOs that you don’t need to have a large bankroll or eliminate a bunch of players to be profitable.

We should note that this tournament format tends to be more complex in terms of strategy when compared with regular MTTs. In this article we present a brief overview of progressive knockout tournaments, outlining the pros and cons and giving you tips designed to help put together a successful PKO battle plan.

PKO Overview

Before we can dive deeper into the topic of progressive knockout tournaments, we need to outline their main rules and understand what makes them stand out from all other tournament formats.

The main idea of PKOs is that every time you knock out a player you are rewarded with a portion of their bounty, with the amount being automatically added to your (poker) account in the context of the online game. In live events, after each elimination players usually receive a special bounty chip which can later be exchanged for cash. So, regardless of what otherwise happens during a tournament, all bounties are yours to keep – hence why this kind of tournament is so attractive to so many.

Now let’s delve a little bit deeper. When you knock out a player in PKOs, a portion of their bounty (usually 50%) will be awarded to you. However, the rest of their bounty will be added to the bounty on your head. For example, imagine that you are in a PKO and have a $100 bounty on you, and you manage to eliminate a player who also has a $100 bounty. You will be credited $50 immediately into your poker account, while the remaining $50 of your victim’s bounty will go towards your bounty, making it $150. If someone should subsequently knock you out, then they will receive $75 into their account, and the other $75 will be added to their bounty.

PKOs also differ from normal MTTs in how prize pools are generated. In a progressive knockout tournament a portion of your buy-in will go towards the main prize pool while the remainder goes towards the bounty pool. As an example, in a $22 buy-in tournament, $10 might go towards the main prize pool and $10 to the bounty pool, with the remaining $2 being the tournament fee.

Now that we have outlined the main characteristics of PKOs, it is time to discuss the format’s pros and cons.

Pros of PKOs

PKOs have become incredibly popular in the poker community for a good reason…

PKOs can be profitable (with the correct approach)

One of the biggest motivations for playing PKOs (especially for regular players) is their potential profitability. A certain level of skill and an appropriate strategy should be enough to expect a profit in the long run. In many cases, PKOs are more profitable than regular MTTs. On top of that, an appreciation of poker mathematics can give you a significant advantage over other players, especially when we consider that a good number of players in PKOs will lack experience and still be adjusting to these new dynamics.

PKOs are action-packed

Another significant advantage of progressive bounties is the fact that they are usually more action-packed and provide more gambling opportunities. This is especially appealing for those more recreational players who put emphasis on poker’s fun element. In regular MTTs you will often find yourself sitting around and waiting as the long, potentially arduous journey to the prizes continues – and that’s the good news in still being in the hunt. Even after winning a pot you will usually go straight back to the grind. PKOs, on the other hand, give players an opportunity to get their hands on immediate monetary rewards at any stage of a tournament – even the very first hand! The fruits of your poker labour can be rewarded literally as they happen!

PKOs are easier on your bankroll

One of the main reasons why progressive knockout tournaments are so attractive for recreational players is the fact that they are simply easier on the bankroll. They are not as volatile as regular MTTs and, coupled with the facility to rack up money via bounties, make for a bankroll-friendly prospect.

Cons of PKOs

Even though there are plenty of reasons to like PKOs, there are also some potential downsides.

PKOs require specific strategic knowledge

PKOs have a rather steep learning curve, and there’s no quick and easy route to success if the aim is to achieve consistent, long-term profitability. In order to reach your goal you will need to have a good strategy. A successful PKO player will be able to make adjustments to their strategy on the go based on their understanding of poker and the independent chip model (ICM). To perform with any kind of effective consistency it is imperative to invest time and effort getting to grips with aspects, nuances and all manner of elements specific to PKO tournaments.

PKOs can be chaotic

One of the main downsides of progressive knockout tournaments is that they can become quite hectic. PKOs attract more than the usual quota of players who enjoy random all-ins with bad hands, with many being understandably incentivised by the very real prospect of winning money just for knocking this or that player out of the tournament. It stands to reason that it’s the nature of the PKO format to see a higher instance of all-ins. Such dynamics can be quite frustrating for players used to conventional MTT strategies, which can backfire in the PKO context when adhered to too closely. PKO is a very specific format with its own rules and strategies and, before diving in, it’s worth learning the fundamentals of regular poker. With this in mind, we recommend that beginners and inexperienced players steer clear of PKOs.

PKO Strategy

As promised, here are a few strategy tips to help get to grips with PKO tournaments. While this mini guide will not make you a PKO professional, it should provide useful pointers and give you a solid foundation on which to build.

In order to be successful in PKOs and make them profitable, it is crucial to understand two important features:

  • How the bounty pool changes when players are eliminated
  • How the bounty pool and the main prize pool correlate

In a nutshell, the bounty pool will decrease as the tournament progresses further and further because half of each bounty is going to be removed from circulation at the elimination of successive players. Even though the main prize pool retains its importance, it is still crucial to hunt for those bounties as much as possible. Below we discuss how best to approach PKOs based on how far you progress in the tournament.

An interesting fact to remember is that if you manage to win a PKO event you will get to keep the full amount of the bounty assigned to you. Consequently, it’s well worth keeping in mind that your own bounty can grow to very significant amount of money.

Early Game Strategy

The early stage of the game is when you will encounter most of the wild gamblers. It’s by no means unusual to come across those who are more than willing to go all-in with trash hands, hoping for a miracle and the accompanying chips and bounty payout. Their aim is to play loose and fast, taking risks in a bid to both quickly accumulate chips and, with enough luck, pick up bounties in the process. It’s not necessary to eliminate lots of players to effectively be on a freeroll (with extra potential!).

However, this approach is in reality quite flawed. First, you get only half of the bounty. Secondly, many opponents take a careful, circumspect approach. There is actually not much value in going after big pots and (smallish) bounties during the initial phase of the game. Consequently, we recommend that you approach this stage in the same way as a regular MTT.

Middle Game Strategy

During the middle stages of a PKO tournament there will be more players whose bounties have been boosted as they eliminate opponents. This calls for an adjustment in strategy that manifests itself in being prepared to loosen up and take more risks. With the bounties increasing, so do the rewards, and it’s now important to play more aggressively against players you have covered and whose bounty you can take. Meanwhile, of course, extra care needs to be taken when facing potentially critical challenges from those with bigger stacks.

However, unfavourable scenarios in which you find yourself under pressure are unavoidable – that’s poker. Players with bigger stacks will play more aggressively; your bounty provides them extra incentive and getting involved runs the risk of being eliminated. It is impossible to avoid such pressure situations, which can be ripe with proverbial banana skins, but you can minimize the chance of negative outcomes by concentrating on favourable pots – focus on scrapping it out against those players you have covered, and beware bigger stacks.

It pays to be aware of how the size of your bounty can impact play. If you were unable to eliminate many players and therefore still have a small bounty, then you can try to steal more pots and bounties. Other players will not be sufficiently incentivized to go up against you if your ‘value’ does not outweigh the potential risks when compared to playing against those with bigger bounties.

If you have a big bounty you should avoid bluffing too much because some players will be happy to go after you with weaker hands in return for a chance of eliminating you; simply put, your fold equity decreases considerably in this context. At the same time, you can go crazy with value hands, especially when so many opponents (particularly recreational and inexperienced players) will be tempted to have a go with weaker hands. A juicy bounty can serve as juicy bait.

Late Game Strategy

Typically, there will be quite a lot of short stacks with valuable bounties once this stage of a PKO is reached, and it’s important to make strategic adjustments accordingly. This means that if you want to go after these short stacks and the money on their heads, you should be ready to put your chips on the line. For example, if a player with a short stack goes all-in from an early position and you are in late position, it is much safer to 3-bet shove a stack of 30-40 big blinds than to call. This is because calling invites other players to throw their proverbial hats in the ring in a bid to claim the short stack’s bounty (and yours!), and this would create unwelcome pressure.

On the other hand, if you are a short stack and have a large bounty on your head, many players will try to call you should you get involved in a hand. Therefore, you need to adjust the amounts with which you shove accordingly. While this does not necessarily mean you need to stop playing aggressively, it does mean that certain hands will play much less effectively in progressive knockout tournaments. That is because players with weaker hands will try to eliminate you, putting you at unnecessary risk.

Final Table Strategy

If you make it to the final table you need to understand that regular ICM will come into play. At this critical final phase it’s important to not lose sight of the actual prize pool by focusing too much on the bounties. It is hard to give any specific advice on playing the final stages of PKOs as they are of course situational and there are many factors at play. At the end of the day, if you have managed to get to the final table of a PKO, then you probably know what you are doing.

PKO: Final Thoughts

Progressive knockout tournaments have plenty of potential benefits. They are usually more affordable, have more potential to be profitable and are more exciting to play than regular MTTs. If you can learn how to play this format effectively you can boost your bankroll and have a great time at the tables along the way. However, before diving into PKOs you need to have a solid understanding of regular MTTs and a good knowledge of poker generally. Luckily, opportunities to hone your game abound. For example, GGPoker is a provider that offers excellent PKOs (Bounty Hunters Daily)

Author: Georgy
last updated 04.07.2023